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2007 Number 25


These excerpts are taken from Alvaro de Soto’s confidential End of Mission Report to the United Nations, dated May 2007. It was leaked shortly after he resigned as the United Nations Special Co-ordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, the Personal Representative of the Secretary-General to the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority, and as UN Envoy to the Quartet, the Middle East grouping dominated by the United States which also includes the European Union and Russia.


Barely five days after the 25 January 2006 elections, the Palestinians received an icy shower in the form of a pre-programmed Quartet meeting in London on 30

January 2006. Just as the dominant issue in September had been whether Hamas should participate in the elections, in January it was how to handle the result.


Not that the Palestinians were totally unprepared for the shock: warning shots had been fired across their bow in two statements, both issued after teleconferences between the Principals, issued on 28 December 2005 and on 26 January 2006, the day after the elections. In the first, the Quartet called on all those ‘who want to be part of the political process’ to ‘renounce violence, recognize Israel’s right to exist, and disarm’, and ‘expressed its view that a future Palestinian Authority Cabinet should include no member who was not committed to the principles of Israel’s right to exist in peace and security and an unequivocal end to violence and terrorism.’ In the second, also issued after a teleconference, the Quartet said: ‘A two-state solution to the conflict requires all participants in the democratic process to renounce violence and terror, accept Israel’s right to exist, and disarm, as outlined in the Road Map.’


Yet in a 13 January meeting, I had gathered the impression that, though the United States had clearly decided who were ‘the bad guys’, they were not entirely averse to the approach, which I floated. This approach, drawing on the flexibility of Russia and the UN – those members of the Quartet unencumbered by legislative constraints regarding dealings with Hamas – would have been designed to encourage Hamas to continue moving in the direction taken when it decided to participate in the elections.


What I had in mind was that the Quartet could adopt a common but differentiated approach towards Hamas and the new government, and I recommended to UNHQ that we avoid tying our hands in ways that we might come to regret later. I also said that, whereas we had to acknowledge that the United States and the European Union had real domestic constraints with regard to assistance to a government involving members of a movement listed by them as a terrorist organization, they should in turn acknowledge that a group that is likely to hold a high percentage of seats in the Legislature could not be effectively dealt with by pressure and isolation alone, that Hamas was evolving and could evolve still more, that if we are to encourage that evolution some channel of dialogue would be necessary, and that for the UN to play such a role, as it had done successfully in many cases elsewhere in the world, it had to be given some space. I also proposed that, regardless of what position it took regarding the new Palestinian dispensation, the Quartet should register concern about Israel’s creation of facts on the ground, which impinge on the viability – indeed, let’s not beat around the bush, the very achievability – of a future Palestinian state, and agree to become more explicit about the need for negotiations and convergence on the end-goal of the Road Map process …


I could not erase what the Quartet had already said on 28 December. However, to me, it was one thing to take positions before the elections, when we all assumed an outcome that would preserve Fateh’s majority, and another to take positions in the face of an outright Hamas victory. The people had spoken in free and fair elections whose holding had been encouraged by the international community, and their wishes should be respected. We had an entirely new, unforeseen situation before us, and we should adjust our reaction accordingly. The 26 January statement, which in effect echoed the one of 28 December, undercut me seriously in that respect.


On 29 January we received a draft statement prepared by the United States that would have had the Quartet, in effect, decide to review all assistance to the new

Palestinian Authority government unless its members adhered to three principles: nonviolence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations including the Road Map. It was quite clear that the Secretary-General could not speak for donors. As a stopgap, therefore, with the approval of the Secretary-General, I proposed that either the reference to the review of assistance should be deleted altogether or the decision should be taken only by the donor members of the Quartet.


I had arrived in London bereft of guidance from UNHQ in response to recommendations on the eve of the Quartet Principals meeting scheduled on 30 January, and was only able to consult with the Secretary-General at a rather late stage.


The Envoys met at 10am on 30 January in preparation for the Principals’ meeting in the evening. I was subjected to a heavy barrage from Welch and Abrams [the US representatives], including ominous innuendo to the effect that if the Secretary-General didn’t encourage a review of projects of UN agencies and programmes it could have repercussions when UN budget deliberations took place on Capitol Hill. This question was resolved when the US stepped back from insisting on a decision by the Quartet on the matter, and settled for language – proposed, incidentally, by the US legal advisor, a veteran of Camp David and other US Middle East efforts – under which the Quartet merely ‘concluded that it was inevitable that future assistance to any new government would be reviewed by donors against that government’s commitment to the principles of nonviolence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations, including the Road Map’.


Despite the constraints under which I was operating, I pleaded with the Envoys for an approach that would be more compatible with the United Nations playing the role which comes naturally to us as explained above. I was weakened by the willingness expressed by both my European Union and Russian colleagues, at the outset, to accept the language proposed by the United States. I found myself arguing alone for formulations that would be more consistent with the Quartet’s support for Abu Mazen’s strategy of co-operation, firstly, and, secondly, more conducive to conveying to Hamas the message that the international community recognizes and welcomes the movement that they have made by participating in the elections and respecting the electoral rules of the game and by and large respecting the ‘Hudna’[ceasefire], and that we earnestly hope that such movement will continue so that the international community can maintain the support it has always provided to the Palestinians. Predictably, I was unsuccessful in these endeavours; hence the undesirably punitive-sounding tone of the 30 January statement from which we have not succeeded in distancing ourselves to this day, and which effectively transformed the Quartet from a negotiation-promoting foursome guided by a common document (the Road Map) into a body that was all but imposing sanctions on a freely elected government of a people under occupation as well as setting unattainable preconditions for dialogue.


The impact of Quartet policy on the Palestinians and

on prospects for a two state solution


The devastating consequences of the Quartet position have been well documented, including in UN Security Council briefings. Those consequences were, in fact, predicted by the Office of the United Nations Special Co-ordinator (UNSCO) in a paper that we circulated to Quartet partners before the London meeting on the institutional implications of pulling the financial plug on the Palestinian Authority.


The precipitous decline of the standard of living of Palestinians, particularly but by no means exclusively in Gaza, has been disastrous, both in humanitarian terms and in the perilous weakening of Palestinian institutions. International assistance, which had been gradually shifting to development and institutional reform, has reverted largely to the humanitarian. The service-delivering capacity of the Palestinian Authority, consisting of the thousands of doctors, nurses and teachers, employees of the Palestinian Authority, who provide the bulk of medical care and education, has suffered tremendously. Perversely, this regression has made the already critical role of United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), as well as other UN agencies, even more crucial to the well-being of the Palestinians.


The underpinnings for a future Palestinian state have been seriously undermined, and the capacity of the Palestinian security apparatus to establish and maintain law and order, to say nothing of putting an end to attacks against Israel, has diminished tremendously – hardly surprising, given that the security forces who would have to risk their lives to achieve these goals haven’t been being paid regular salaries.  Thus the steps taken by the international community with the presumed purpose of bringing about a Palestinian entity that will live in peace with its neighbour Israel have had precisely the opposite effect.


Beyond the damage wrought in terms of international assistance, which in the final analysis is voluntary, there is that which has been inflicted by Israel, notwithstanding its responsibilities to the population, under international law, as occupying power: not just the killings of hundreds of civilians in sustained heavy incursions and the destruction of infrastructure, some of it wanton such as the surgical strikes on the only power plant, as well as bridges in Gaza; also the cessation of transfer to the Palestinian Authority, since February 2006, of the VAT and customs duties which Israel collects, under the Paris Protocol signed with the PLO pursuant to the Oslo Accords, on behalf of the Palestinians. This is money collected from Palestinian exporters and importers. It is Palestinian money. In normal circumstances it adds up to a full one third of Palestinian income. It is the main source of payment of salaries to Palestinian Authority employees. While the international community demands from the Palestinian government that it should accept ‘previous agreements and obligations’, Israel deprives the Palestinian Authority of the capacity to deliver basic services to the Palestinian population in violation of one such ‘previous agreement’, as well as its International Humanitarian Law obligations regarding the welfare of the population whose land it occupies.


Israel’s cutoff of the main source of income of the Palestinian Authority was never intended by three of the Quartet members. The UN (myself) was the first to call on Israel not to do this, the very day that the decision was communicated to international representatives. The European Union has since repeatedly called on Israel to resume transfer; the sums withheld surely add up to the high hundreds of millions of dollars by now. However, the Quartet has been prevented from pronouncing on this because the United States, as its representatives have intimated to us, does not wish Israel to transfer these funds to the Palestinian Authority. It is interesting that in a recent interview in the Financial Times Secretary Rice was quoted as saying ‘I do think that there are certain responsibilities that come with governing and that Hamas has not lived up to those because it has been unable to deliver because it is isolated from the international system because it will not give up violence. So there’s a consequence to being in power and being unable to deliver.’ One wonders whether it is credible to judge the ability of a government to deliver when it is being deprived of its largest source of income, to which it is indubitably entitled by virtue of an agreement endorsed by the Security Council, by the State which largely controls the capacity of that government and its people to generate income. In fact, the Palestinian Authority government is being expected to deliver without having make-or-break attributes of sovereignty such as control of its borders, the monopoly over the use of force, or access to natural resources, let alone regular tax receipts.


In general, the other consequence of Quartet policy has been to take all pressure off Israel. With all focus on the failings of Hamas, the Israeli settlement enterprise and barrier construction has continued unabated. (In the same time period, the idea has also gained ground in Western public opinion and even some Arab governments that the problem in the region is Iran and the ‘Shia crescent’ – a framing device which tends to mute attention to the Palestinian issue.)


Palestinian realignment and the formation

of a National Unity Government


Soon after the elections, Hamas expressed its desire to establish a broad-based government. The reactions in Fateh were mixed, but before the idea could advance any further the United States made it known that they wanted Hamas to be left alone to form its government. We were told that the US was against any ‘blurring of the line dividing Hamas from those Palestinian political forces committed to the two-state solution. Abu Mazen soon made clear that Fateh members would not participate in a Hamas-led government. The US reportedly also sent unequivocal signals to independents who had been approached about joining the government that they would be ill-advised to do so. In the event, Hamas formed a government that included some independents but was largely dominated by Hamas. This naturally facilitated the continued quarantine of the Palestinian Authority government, a.k.a. the ‘Hamas Government’.


Before going on, I want to stress that, in effect, a National Unity Government with a compromise platform along the lines of Mecca might have been achieved soon after the election, in February or March 2006, had the United States not led the Quartet to set impossible demands, and opposed a National Unity Government in principle. At the time, and indeed until the Mecca Agreement a year later, the United States clearly pushed for a confrontation between Fateh and Hamas – so much so that, a week before Mecca, the US envoy declared twice in an envoys’ meeting in Washington how much ‘I like this violence’, referring to the near-civil war that was erupting in Gaza in which civilians were being regularly killed and injured, because ‘it means that other Palestinians are resisting Hamas’. Please remember this next time someone argues that the Mecca agreement, to the extent that it showed progress, proved that a year of pressure ‘worked’, and we should keep the isolation going. On the contrary, the same result might have been achieved much earlier without the year in between in which so much damage was done to Palestinian institutions, and so much suffering brought to the people of the occupied territory, in pursuit of a policy that didn’t work, which many of us believed from the outset wouldn’t work, and which, I have no doubt, is at best extremely short-sighted ...





































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